Do the Right Thing: Stanford Conference Discusses Encouraging Good Behavior

Last Updated Apr 19, 2010 2:19 PM EDT

Whether you're asking people to donate to charity, eat healthier or make more ethical choices, the question remains the same: How do you get more people to take these "right" actions?

Even though most people have an innate sense of what's right, all sorts of barriers can keep them from acting on it. Faculty from top business schools and other participants at the recent Stanford Graduate School of Business' Center for Social Innovation conference called "Small Steps, Big Leaps: The Science of Getting People to do the Right Thing" discussed ways to encourage people to take positive actions.

Here are a few of the panelists' suggestions:

  • 1. Stress the personal benefits of helping others: According to speaker Mike Norton of Harvard Business School, altruism is a powerful mood elevator. Whether it's thank-you gifts or simply feeling good, let people know what's in it for them when they pitch in.
  • 2. Make doing good the default option: Columbia Business School's Eric Johnson pointed to research showing that there is a much higher rate of organ donation in countries where people have to opt out of organ donation, rather than opt in. Similarly, people save more money when their companies automatically enroll them in a retirement savings plan.
  • 3. Show the popularity of doing the right thing: According to UCLA's Anderson School of Management's Noah Goldstein, humans are herd animals, so messages that people are doing the right thing will encourage positive behavior. For example, Goldstein said that signs reporting how many hotel guests reuse their towels are more effective than signs saying how many people waste water.
For more tips on encouraging people to do the right thing and to see clips of conference speakers, visit the Center for Social Innovation's web site.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Brooke Anderson, CC 2.0.

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.